I usually write on photography and travel, but today I have some thoughts on Covid-19 testing in the U.S.
I arrived back home to the U.S. from Venice, Italy (with a side-trip to Paris) on February 20, 2020 after a two week stay photographing their famous Carnival. Three days later, disaster struck. Covid-19 cases in Italy and France spiked. As I write this, there is no end in sight.
I’ve been self-distancing since the outbreak of Covid-19 escalated in Italy on February 23rd. I’ve limited my group contact and non-essential outings. It looks like the U.S. is 2-3 weeks behind what is happening in Europe, so I’ll be social distancing for a while, yet.
Don’t act to avoid catching Covid-10. Act as if you have Covid-19 and are protecting others.
The U.S. is is woefully behind in testing. I see the number of cases each day and dismiss the U.S. cases. Of course the numbers will go up. We’re only now starting to test.
Even though I’d just arrived home from the European outbreak, I’ve not been tested for Covid-19. After friends suggested that I get tested, partially because they were themselves concerned about their exposure to me, we looked into it. I couldn’t get tested because I didn’t have a fever.
I’d just returned from the epicenter of the European Covid-19 outbreak and I couldn’t get a test.
More and more evidence is mounting that non-symptomatic people can pass the disease.
It’s been nearly a month since I returned (and six weeks since I arrived in Italy) so if I caught Covid-19 during my travels, I’m through it without symptoms. I’m now more likely to catch Covid-19 through community contact at home in the U.S.
There is some evidence that Covid-19 has been spreading through the U.S. since January. The heartbreaking outbreak in a Life Care Center nursing home in Washington state shows the devastating effect of the silent killer in our midst.
The disease was in the nursing home before anyone realized it. The staff infected other facilities. Nearly half of Washington’s reported fatalities are linked to this facility.
It’s easy to blame the facility in hindsight, but they were just the canary in the coal mine – a warning of things to come.
Testing to Stem Outbreak
The U.S. significantly lags behind other developed nations in testing for Covid-19. It appears that despite knowing about the possible outbreak for months – and even having cases reported in the U.S. since January, 2020, we’ve been caught flatfooted.
Did we think Americans were immune? Did we think that the virus would skip over the U.S.?
The attitude a few weeks ago seemed to be that if we keep our eyes closed and don’t test, than the virus isn’t happening here.
If we don’t test, we won’t have high number of cases.
The U.S. simply does’t have enough tests. But other developed nations seem miles in front of us. Check out this graph from Our World in Data. This show the tests per million people which puts all the countries on a level playing field. Iceland seems to be blanket testing and we’ve heard in the news about South Korea’s aggressive testing. The U.S. is way behind.
We are rightly concerned with the treatment of the disease. We need doctors, hospitals, nurses, medical supplies, ventilators – and it seems that these are likely to be in short supply over the next few weeks.
But there are two ways wide-spread testing can help.
One of the Italian towns initially quarantined was Vo near Venice. Since I had been close by this city, I was personally interested in following the outbreak in this small town.
Vo was isolated from the other affected towns which were located about a two-hour drive west. In a move to understand the virus more deeply, all 3,300 residence of Vo were tested.
Despite Italy still in the thick of the Covid-19 outbreak, Vo has reported no new cases. This isn’t a coincidence. Based on the reports, the blanket testing of the town allowed six positive, non-symptomatic people to be isolated.
Just six people were identified, but early evidence suggests that finding ALL cases of Covid-19 was essential in stemming the outbreak in Vo.
South Korea and Singapore seems to have stemmed the tide. Both countries have instituted wide-spread testing.
Information is essential to action. Even if the numbers aren’t where you want them to be.
With such a new virus, no one really knows what happens after you recover from Covid-19. If it’s like other diseases, your body will remain immune to the disease at least for a time.
Testing those of us who may have been exposed early, but not experienced symptoms may seem extravagant. We have definitely been de-prioritized.
We’re told to stay home to avoid the virus, but what if I’ve already had it?
But finding those of us who are possibly immune – or at least less likely to be severely affected – is essential.
Putting Tests to Work
I’m currently sitting on my sofa writing this article, but what COULD I be doing?
If I knew that I’d already been exposed to Covid-19 and am not concerned about re-exposure, I could be on the front lines. Not in a medical sense, but in a socially productive way.
I could be visiting people who have tested positive and are quarantined at home. I could deliver groceries, medicine and generally keep their spirits up.
I could be cleaning. Cleaning nursing homes and hospitals, daycare centers, public spaces. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s something that needs doing to keep the community safe.
I could be swabbing cheeks and taking samples. I don’t have the medical knowledge to do anything more, but I’m educated and could be doing basic work.
I wouldn’t want to be around non-infected people in case this new disease remains infectious long after expected, but I could still be useful.
It’s going to take a lot of man power to get through this pandemic. I’d like to be doing more, but until I’m tested, I’m stuck at home.
Sure, my house is getting the spring clean of it’s life and I’m learning new things on the internet. But this seems selfish and unproductive in a crisis.
Follow the outbreak by the numbers https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/